Two Good Reasons

Nov 29, 2021


My first life ended on November 24, 2006.

I had spent the morning at school, where I had been doing a legal clerkship as a teacher for half a year, and I was looking forward to the evening. The graduation ceremony of my old girls‘ school was on the agenda. After 20 years, we would all finally meet again. I had been reminiscing about the stories of those days spent with the companions of my youth, and I asked myself, “What has become of one or the other?”

Only a few meters, one last bend, and I could see the house where we had been living for a few months. And I could see my husband‘s dark blue BMW parked by my front door. Just as it was when I left in the morning.

As I drove up the hill, a queasy feeling crept up on me, and this feeling grew stronger as I parked my car, got out, and walked through the garden toward the front door. I put the key into the lock, opened the door, took a step into the hall- way. At that moment, my two boys, one dark like me, the other almost platinum blonde, one four and one five, come crying, their eyes wide open with screams on their lips: “Mummy, Mummy, Daddy is lying there!” They point toward the bathroom.

I fell against the door, almost tripped over my own feet, and found my husband lying on the floor in our bathroom. He didn‘t move. I reached for my mobile phone and called the emergency doctor. But even as I awaited his arrival, I knew I had to accept the hard truth: My husband is dead.

A world came to an end for me. My husband, my best friend, my sparring partner, my buddy, my hero, my port, and so much more – THE FATHER OF MY CHILDREN – was gone.

I didn‘t understand what was happening. I acted like a machine, setting everything in motion that had to happen. His family was informed: first, his brother so that together we could tell his mother, my parents, friends, the company. I even managed to cancel my children‘s afternoon play date.

I acted calmly and thoughtfully. I was even happy about such banalities as when the man from the funeral parlour told me that he had rarely seen such a prudent per- son. So, I organised the funeral service and called all our friends in the next days. A good friend came and stayed with me for the first week; I don‘t know how I could have managed without her help.

Somehow, I worked. I had to – at least externally. But inwardly – inwardly – I died that day. Inside, I found no more drive. Every new day, I asked myself, “Why does the sun rise? Why does the earth continue to turn? How can it be that all the others can simply continue to live their lives like normal, something not granted to both of us, the four of us, as a family?”

Two good reasons

But there was a reason for my continuing. Yes, not just one, but two good reasons. The two of them flew around in our living room. They crawled onto my lap and let themselves be comforted when they were sad. They wanted to have something read to them. And when they were hungry, they had to be taken care of. So, not being able to continue was simply not an option.

The question did not arise for me – as justified as it would have been after such a heavy loss: “Why should you even get up in the morning?” Or “Why should you shop and why should you cook?” I had no other alternative! I had to act and function. And even if I hate these terms – then as now – this time brought me personally, retrospectively, infinitely further. I was forced to deal not only with my grief and despair but also with who I actually was and who I wanted to be. But above all, I also needed to decide what kind of life I wanted to lead at that moment – and in the future.

I was not the only one who had to fight day after day; my two boys also suffered. Children take what is given for granted and they normalise things, unlike us adults, who are attached to what was. We tend to mourn the beautiful past and keep asking ourselves what would have happened if this or that hadn‘t happened, or worry about the future. I had to take care of our family alone now and think about the future, while my children lived uncompromisingly in the here and now. That helped me a lot. So, I matured more and more with my two boys.

The question of guilt

I remember a moment when I realised that my husband‘s heart attack was not his company‘s fault, but that it was up to each and every one of us to say “No.” “No,” if it becomes too much for us. “No,” if we can’t or don’t want to manage this one small task.

But as painful at the time as those realisations were, especially since they had their origins in the unimaginable events and upheavals in my life, they also led me exactly to where I am now and to what I stand for today. I want to share this knowledge with others. For me, it is an important concern. In part, it is also my daily driving force: to bring people into self-responsibility, and to establish a management culture and working atmosphere in which a “No” is not only permitted, but desired.

But let‘s go back once again to the time when my life was reshaped bit by bit. After the terrible event, I kept on struggling. From day to day, from week to week, from month to month. I learned what it means to survive the first year without a partner. In Germany, we call it the year of mourning. The first snowfall. The first time when the children, their eyes shining, built a slide out of the snow in the garden. The first snowman without Daddy. In this first year, without my husband and the father of our children, there were, of course, countless such moments and scenes which were imprinted in my mind. The first Christmas for the three of us. The first birthday. The first holiday without him.

A lot happened during this time, which made me what I am today: a successful businesswoman who stands in the middle of life, who likes to be a role model for other women, who wants to shout to them: “Trust yourselves!” But not only women. I want to shout it out into the world: “Trust yourself! Take responsibility for yourselves and your lives. Do not do what others expect of you. Go your own way and begin to say ‘NO’ for yourselves. Create working environments in which ‘NO’ is not only heard but also accepted.”

I want to tell you about an event that happened five days after Patrick‘s death. I decided to go to his company to pick up his personal things. At the reception, I had some trouble gaining admission because I was not registered. Finally, a long time colleague of my husband came to pick me up and accompany me through the long corridors. Even today, I remember the bright walls, the bright lights, and the smell of the bamboo parquet. He led me into Patrick‘s office, and I froze.


His pictures of the children and me were lovelessly put aside. His notes, already edited and used. The signs of his presence over many years simply wiped away.

I couldn‘t believe it. After all, he had been so committed to the company and its employees. On more than one occasion, he had completely exhausted himself. For one-and-a-half years, he had tried to set up a department with six people. And every time he had failed in some way. Sometimes, it was the employee figures that were “frozen.”

Sometimes it was the HR department that didn’t get its part done. Sometimes, the boss blocked the desired development and preferred other departments. I was pissed off! After all, these circumstances were the reason that my husband had so little free time, had worked so hard, and had now – forever – left us. I cried quietly, took all of his things, and hastily left this place where my husband was so quickly forgotten. It was unbelievable to me that this company that had forgotten Patrick so quickly – much too quickly – asked me to come in for a talk a few weeks later, and then actually offered me a job.

Unfortunately, there was so little one could do for me because my husband died of a heart attack, and therefore, no insurance would cover it. But maybe it could be a help for my family if I could earn money there. Far more money, by the way, than I could ever have earned with my dream to become a teacher.

That I didn‘t wring the neck of the dear HR lady at that time! I blamed these very people for my husband‘s death. I owe it to my mother, who managed to educate me so well that I knew that strangling someone was not appropriate.

So, I sat there, thanked myself for being well-behaved, and asked for time to think about it. I needed time to finish my education. Did I need to become me? Time to decide what I wanted? Should my path lead back to me? Should I follow a path independently of this company?

Suddenly, I thought back to my school days: I grew up at a girls’ grammar school and really wanted to take a physics course. When it didn‘t happen, I fought to make it work. Where there is a will, there is a way. I was already convinced of that at the time. And obviously, I was so convincing that I was able to win over our director to my idea. He finally agreed on a cooperation agreement with the nearby school so that ten boys came to study on our campus, and the physics course was secured for me and a few other girls. Everything was perfect, until the first exam. We girls in the advanced course were above average in the beginning. But as soon as the boys were there, we fell apart completely at the first exam. Our grades were in a much lower range. That was a drastic experience that shaped me for the rest of my life.

Most of the girls said after our poor exam performance: “Well, the boys just do that better. Of course, physics is not for girls!” Some even changed their advanced courses. A friend and I reacted differently. We wanted to know why the boys scored so much better than we did. We asked them: “Why are you so much better at this than we are?”

The answer was simple: they had three times as many physics’ lessons in junior high as we did in our girls’ high school.

I still remember as if this happened yesterday. My girlfriend and I were sitting on my bed, and I said to her, “Okay, what do we do now?” Instead of giving up like many of our classmates, we decided to go on. That wasn‘t easy, of course, because we had a lot of stuff to catch up on. But we sat down, spent days studying, and at the next, well maybe not the very next, but on another exam, we were again in first place.

Even later, when I made my career in the industry, this point always came out again: If someone approaches something with the attitude that the biggest part of succeeding is preparation THEN it works out. But if you go in with the attitude of “this won‘t work,” then it won‘t work out.

A network that catches you

And so, after my husband’s death, I was convinced that I needed that same attitude again. The weeks went by. Months passed. I was perfect. I went to school and at- tended my seminars. In the afternoon, I spent my time with the children. Fortunately, I had the greatest nanny in the world, who, by the way, is still with us today and has become a kind of surrogate mother for my boys over the years. And I had friends who caught me, who were just there, who accompanied me in the hard hours. And those hours, sometimes even whole days, were dark and made me doubt whether I was really up to the whole thing. They came again and again, even if the distances between them grew larger and larger.

When I look back on this time today, I realise that countless people saved me after I had lost the most important person in my life. The network of these people literally caught me. They prevented me from crashing, going crazy, or drowning in despair.

It started with two people, who were still quite small at that time, my incomparable boys, of whom I am infinitely proud, and who showed me every day anew that life must go on. Then, of course, there were my family and close friends. And last but not least, people who were completely unknown to me until then. We had just moved more or less freshly to the village and I didn‘t know anybody in the surrounding area, let alone on our street. Suddenly, these people whom I didn‘t know, stood at our door and offered their help. Some of them are now my best friends.

Years later, I asked them once: “Tell me, why were you standing at my front door at the time?” The answer was and still is as simple as it is impressive: “Well, because you needed help and because I liked you. That‘s it.” Even today, I still try to pass this on, to give something back from what was positive for me at the worst moment of my life. I don’t look away in crises like grief, even it is easier to do so. Conversely, an exchange with like-minded people is valuable for me; when people move something together, they have the same curiosity and thus give each other energy.

Even today, it is extremely important for me to know people in my environment on whom I can rely and who do me good. And vice versa, of course. It probably has something to do with the positive experiences at that time that I have no problem with giving my trust to unknown people, without thinking about what it brings me or what I get back for it. I love to connect people whom I believe will benefit from one another. And especially lately, I have noticed that people are recommended to me again and again whose strength or talent I need exactly at that moment.

At that time, one of those people, whom I undoubtedly needed urgently, was a very dear friend who had just moved to Atlanta with her husband. They didn’t seem to be concerned about the distance between us, which was really great. Because of the time difference, when my day was over and I was often at the end of my rope, she had just had lunch, and we could talk. Without her and our almost daily con- versations, I would not have survived that first year after the death of my husband. Because we had moved several times, many people from our network of friends were not nearby. But even if they were sitting in Hamburg and Munich, in France, or even in the United States, they were always there for me.

The conversations did me good, and, yes, somehow everything went on. I, too, was almost perfect – at least to the outside world. I fulfilled the role of the loving mother and did everything that had to be done in the general German image of a loving mother. But I felt nothing. Nothing at all. No joy. No love. No pain. And I had no more dreams, either.

I functioned on one side, and on the other, I felt like a leaf in the wind. I had turned my back on the industry and was on my way to the second state examination. Despite all the imponderables, I was sure that for me, or better, for all three of us, with a teaching position in math and physics, the world could not really end. I was convinced that this combination of subjects would always provide me with a job.

Time passed. I passed my second state examination and finally could teach mathematics and physics at German grammar schools, but somehow I didn’t know what to do. I had always been good at making plans, and I knew that something had to happen now.

During the passing weeks and months, I had learned to accept support and help. I’m still convinced today that if we can’t succeed on our own, we’ll have to get help. We are simply not able to ask ourselves the right questions, like we can when it comes to helping our friends with their problems.

Others helped me, or rather, they found me. Coincidences, which as you know do not exist, occurred. I was in the sauna with a friend when I was offered a trial date or floating. Rebekka was the name of the fairy godmother, who simply moved me back and forth in the water as I floated to the sounds of dolphins underwater, until I finally started to cry and let out all my pain. We worked together with the body, not with the mind. With emotions, not with thoughts, and certainly not with old, outdated norms or values.

And something else happened little by little. My children were my best feedback system. I learned that we were only doing well together when I was doing well. I didn’t want to admit that for a long time. But again, and again, some situations showed me exactly that. And I decided to take better care of myself. Very slowly, we became a family again.

This was accompanied by the question: “WHAT exactly do I want to do?” This question was not new to me; I had asked myself this question several times in the past years.

As a woman in a leading role

As a woman in the business world, I had to experience with sorrow how different systems tick when you become pregnant and are working in a leading role. The first boss was spontaneously happy with me, and his only question was: “Marion, how do you imagine this with a child?” He fully supported my part-time work, and I en- joyed returning to work relatively quickly after my pregnancy to see my old col- leagues and to do a good job.

But when I came back after the second pregnancy, someone else was suddenly there. A former management consultant. He also had two children and a wife who was also a management consultant. She stayed at home with an au pair and two children; she was a completely different working mother. He couldn‘t handle my way at all.

Interesting things happened that I couldn’t understand at first. Or maybe I didn’t want to see. But at some point, I had to find out and admit it to myself: He simply wanted me to get out.

That fueled my frustration. I wanted to work. I still had just as much in my head as before. Why shouldn’t I still work with two children? But to be so dependent on the boss who supported a part-time job? I certainly didn‘t want that any longer either!

I thought for the first time about what I actually wanted to do in life. I rediscovered my girlhood dream of supporting people in their development. I decided to leave the economy in order to find my happiness at school. But was that my way? Or for return to the economy? Where was my future? How could I take care of my family safely?

Meanwhile, the offer to work at the company where my husband had been passionately active until his end still stood. I had to make a difficult decision that I did not want to make lightly: School or business? Especially work in the company which I blamed for the death of my husband?

But wait! There was something else: Hadn’t I learned in the last weeks and months that my children only feel good when I feel good myself? Hadn’t I had to experience painfully that everyone is replaceable?

It slowly dawned on me: Companies will always only take, take, take. Another order here, another to-do list there. And you know what? That‘s good and right!

A boss can‘t know how long someone is sitting on a task. How much time does it take to work on project A or project B? He would have to tell his employees exactly the way to go. But this is exactly what contradicts the employee’s personal responsibility, his freedom to handle tasks in the way he is able, willing, and believes to be sensible.

The only one who can say “no” is me

Once again it became clear to me: The only one who can say “NO” is me. And learned even more: The only one who could have escaped the stress would have been my husband. He was the only one who knew what he had on his desk, which tasks were piled up on his to-do list. He was the only one who knew whether he had to work hard for three weeks for the evaluation, or knew someone who had perhaps already prepared it for another context. And I suddenly became aware: If he could have said “No” maybe nothing would have happened!

This realisation spread more and more within me. I was overcome by an inner peace from which I was able to see it all again from a completely different perspective, even in a completely new light.

And there was even more: I wanted – as I had done a few weeks before – to communicate this to everyone I met. I wanted to scream: “Take care! Take your life in your hands! And then I realised: Damn, that also applies to me!” Oops, not noticed at all.

I talked a lot, with good friends, with strangers, with psychologists, women, men, teachers, and employees, and finally found my solution: Yes, I wanted to support people in their personal development. But no, I didn’t want to do this at school. I wanted to accompany adult people to find their own limits and show them. I wanted to accompany adult people to find their own limits and show them. I wanted to introduce companies to a culture that is characterised by joy and trust. If there is an environment of trusting cooperation, then everyone may say “NO.” Mistakes may happen, but people need not be afraid of them because mistakes are seen as learning opportunities.

My husband‘s company was no longer taboo for me. I started again in our former company. I went one step back and was no longer a manager. All day long, I did nothing but develop concepts for a respectful and trusting company culture. And I trained people to implement this culture and live it every day, from managers to every single employee and back again – between departments, at all hierarchical levels, from trainee to boss.

Looking back, I can only say one thing: I was naive! I actually thought that if we were to work together on the topic of customers, if we wanted to teach others that customer orientation should be the greatest and the only means for further success then we would have to live it! My colleagues and I worked hard. We never got tired of presenting ourselves as contact partners, of getting involved with all our heart and soul. Even on a poster about our Guiding Principles, our faces smiled at us almost everywhere from the walls. We were happy and proud. And we were happy to be able to pursue this beautiful activity.

What can I say? My career did not only go on and on. It also went steeply up relatively fast. The success proved me right once again! I was promoted and was re- sponsible for 300 million euros. My alarm clock rang punctually at 5am so that I could read my emails before I woke up my children. With my mobile phone in my hand at 6:30, I prepared everything for school, quickly packed my snacks, had a short breakfast together, and headed off to work. My next break was from 6 to 8 p.m. Then I worked until midnight. Five hours of sleep. And the next day everything started all over again.

A déjà-vu

I didn’t see what happened. I didn’t see that my life had been just as strained as my husband‘s had been. I did not see that my children became more and more rest- less, dissatisfied, and unhappy. I only noticed that I had more and more stress with them. I didn‘t realise what it all did to me, what it did to us.

But one day I woke up suddenly! On that day, I had a feedback meeting with my temporary CEO. He had been in the office for just six weeks and was about to re- structure. I led the smallest of three areas that were to be merged.

I was sitting in his office. He offered me coffee and water. The obligatory small talk.

Suddenly, he said a sentence that should have completely disassembled me: “Mrs. Bourgeois, unfortunately, we have no more use for you.”

*No more use? Three words I couldn‘t grasp! But I had given everything. Doesn‘t he know what I did? That cannot be! And why?! I was speechless and unspeakably angry. I was at a loss about what was to become of me now. I had relied on the fact that at least my job was a constant in life. By the way, there was a lot of trouble in my life again, even if I didn‘t want to or couldn‘t see it for a long time because I needed all my strength and energy for my career. I did this with the best of intentions, wanting to secure my family. That I had almost destroyed them became clear to me only sometime later.

Fortunately, there was a network that I could count on, people who listened to me and helped me to process what had happened in the last few months. The realisation hit me like a blow and literally put me down. I was diagnosed with pneumonia.

I was forced to spend the next few days at home on the couch. In this medically prescribed silence, I finally had time to think, to think about what had happened. Fortunately, it was just pneumonia and not a heart attack like my husband‘s, whom I had lost six years earlier. I was in the second big crisis of my life, but this time it was really my own health, my own life, which I had put at risk.

This time I realised that I couldn‘t blame anybody else. Not my company, not my family. This next deep case was on my account, and again it was the well-known trigger: I hadn‘t said “NO.” I had taken no responsibility for myself, my body, and my life.

I had treated every day as a new beginning, until the beginning comes to an abrupt end, as I had experienced years before.

I lay on the couch and reviewed what had happened in the last few weeks. My father had a stroke, my mother then went to a nursing home, blaming me for not tak- ing care for her. She had told me that over and over again. But how could I have done otherwise with my job and two children? I had just separated from my friend after he told me he didn‘t like being treated like my garbage can. Somehow, I had done what I could – at least in my perception – but it was never enough. I had lost my job, my boys weren‘t happy, my parents were in bad health, and I didn‘t have enough time for my boyfriend either – and the time we spent together didn‘t do him any good.

Regardless of all those important people around me, I had taken even less care of the most important person: ME! There wasn‘t much left of the realisation that my boys were only doing well when I was doing well. Somehow, I had lost the knowledge on my way. Somewhere I had taken a wrong turn. Something had flattened me, and that something was me.

Self-knowledge is not easy, but it is inevitable if we want to develop further. And that‘s what I wanted! I decided to look forward and not back. I analyzed what had happened. Now it was time again to make a plan. To think again about what I want- ed in life. In any case, it should not go on like this. It was just before Easter, and I decided to go skiing with my boys. In the past, the four of us liked to do that, and now I wanted to use the freedom of the mountains to gain farsightedness not only for physical activity but also for thought – about my future, about our future.

Said, done. And what can I say: They were wonderful, incomparably beautiful days and moving for me in every respect. Even though I wasn’t quite as well physically yet, I was visibly recovering. And I finally decided to start “the Marion project.”

A moment that changed everything once again

It was in the summer of 2012. A party at a friends’ house. We celebrated with one of our football crazy friends. He had a house with a huge barn in the back. As soon as an event was announced that was suitable for public viewing, a screen was set up, the event was loudly commented and celebrated while the grill was running and lots of drinks were poured.

This time, there was also a DJ from our group who heated us up after the victory of the Germans. And I danced – for the first time in ten years – again. You must know, dancing was a great passion for me as a child. At that time, there was nothing bigger, nothing more important for me. Like so many little girls, I started ballet early. Later, I was a semi-professional Latin American dancer. And there Gunnar sat at the edge. I only knew him because he worked for the local electrician and installed a television for me. A mountain of a man. Full of tattoos. And knowing me otherwise only “professionally.” Gunnar looked at me, watched me dance for a while, came up to me and asked me: “Marion, where else is this woman? The woman who is so full of energy here. Does she shine in such a way that you can turn off the light? What are you doing with this energy?” It was a question that changed my life.

That evening, I decided to pursue my old hobby again regularly. Also, I found myself back in my everyday life. I knew about my priorities in life. I knew that I would prioritise everything else – except that my children always would be first. I knew that dancing would energise me. But what I still didn’t know for sure: How could I realise what I wanted to do professionally – without endangering our existence? Without an employer?

A short time later, I was sitting in a seminar that would once again change my life enormously. This seminar is all about me. It is about my meaning in life. It is about my values. It’s about my vision. And then the trainer asks exactly this one crucial question: “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

And my whole house of cards is falling apart.

Yes, if I wasn’t afraid – then I would be free. Then I’d be free to do things I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Then I would finally start my own business. And: Then I would finally be able again to enter into a reliable, binding relationship.

The seminar was in 2012. A lot has changed since then. Marion in happiness

On the day my husband died, I was celebrating my 20th school anniversary. If I look back on my 18-year-old self today, I would, to be honest, not do much differently. I would perhaps shout to my 18-year-old self: “Do your thing! Stay yourself! Have your own opinion and express it!” I could always express my emotions and arguments wonderfully – for others, for topics, for things, for ideas. But I couldn’t do it for myself! Not for a long time. In the meantime, I have learned it and feel comfortable in my skin, in my life. Yes, this way, my way, brought me right here, so I would do differently only a little. Only to start with it earlier.

I am Marion, 52 years old, Doctor of Physics, but at some point, I realised that my heart was not only beating for numbers but much more for people. I have been involved in cultural change for twelve years and started my own business four years ago. I want to encourage people, especially in management, in companies, to be happy and successful – by supporting them in taking on responsibility for themselves.

Yes, I’m fine and I can’t imagine doing anything other than what I’m doing every day right now. I have a job that inspires me. I am still curious and learn something new every day. When I work with my participants, I come back home full of energy. My two boys are developing splendidly. I am infinitely proud of them. And I’ve been remarried for three years and live in Cologne. On our wedding rings, it says: “Zo levve e levve lang.”

For us, this is a synonym for, “Enjoy every day. Enjoy every single moment. And try to see beautiful moments every day.” I am convinced that you are what you are telling. If you only ever tell yourself – and others – the negative things, then you and others – will think: You are the unluckiest person! But the opposite is also true. Telling yourself – and others – the happy things you experience, the things you meet, then you feel as being the happiest person ever. And I am Marion in happiness.

And at some point, it fell like scales from my eyes: My second life started on November 24, 2006.


Dr. Marion Bourgeois

Leadership Companion, Germany

Excellence Coach & Top-Speaker. At 28, a doctorate in physics; at 33, mother of two boys; at 39, widow. Returning to her own strengths. At 43, senior management within a DAX company. Member of the Supervisory Board. Renewed focus on personal values. Independent at 49. As a certified business coach, mediator and moderator, she brings people into personal responsibility and companies into cultural change with her lectures and practical training. An emphasis lies thereby on the topic of women in leadership to increase the quota by exclusive coaching and not by setting a number legally.

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